WTOC in Kuwait--Soldiers' Stories

Is someone you know living in the desert right now, somewhere between Kuwait City and Baghdad? Thousands of our neighbors are, deployed with the Third Infantry Division in their second round of Operation Iraqi Freedom.

It's difficult for the troops to just pack everything up, leave family and friends behind, and go overseas again for at least a year. So on a trip to Kuwait, we tried to find out how they cope. Some of the situations, and the answers might surprise you.

"My dad's a military guy, he's been over here a couple of times, but I never thought I would," SSgt. Lance Powell told us.

Powell grew up in Hinesville, joined the Army, and is seeing the world. But every time he leaves home, and family, behind, it's tough. "We had a lot of long goodbyes, long, long goodbyes."

He still has family in Hinesville, lots of it. "I think it's going to be a little easier on me, because I know my family's being taken care of. I've got a ton of relatives, versus most other people who leave behind spouses. They've got a great family support group, but obviously, having a lot of family helps."

Not everyone is quite so lucky in that respect. Spec. Dawn Morton told us, "I have two sons, one's only two, one's seven months. My husband is actually the mom and the dad right now, and that's the only hard part about it, leaving the kids and the family, but I overcome that, and I'll be back home soon.

"I first had to prepare myself first, mentally and physically, and once I was sure everything's okay, I let them know everything's okay, I'll call you as much as I can and let you know I'm okay and I'll see you."

At least she has dad at home to play Mr. Mom. Some families wind up with both parents deployed to the desert.

"It was probably one of the most difficult times of my life, me and my husband deploy," said SFC Montoua Jones. "Very difficult. Knowing that she's getting cared for makes things a lot easier for me. She's 13, goes to Snelson Golden Middle School, her name's Raven. She plays basketball."

Raven's staying with a family friend till the end of the school year, then it's off to another part of the country to stay with relatives till her parents come home.

"This is not my first deployment," said SFC Jones. "It's difficult, but she's adjusting. It's a huge sacrifice."

Sgt. Sean Aube and his wife deployed on the same mission, sometimes in the same unit, but they can't set up their own little housekeeping tent in the desert. It offers other challenges.

"So we go to lunch and dinner, whenever we get some free time, we talk," said Sgt. Sean Aube. "It's all about communication, and trying to get through this together without letting the work get in the way of our relationship together. It's hard."

Even without spouses and children issues, there's plenty to worry about. For some young soldiers, it's their first trip far from home. And they're going into a war zone.

"If they come to me and say, 'This worries me,' I let them know what's going on and don't worry because we're here for them," said Spec. Robert Tilley. "It works."

"We have a lot of combat veterans," said Lt. Col. Pedro Almeida. "This is the second time the Third Infantry Division's responded to the call to support out here in Iraq in the last couple years. And those veterans are passing on the information and support for those younger soldiers that have never been here before. That is a key part of preparation for these young soldiers. They know they can look left and right and see someone who's been there and done that. And get that support that they need."

"We just train them on what they will be doing here, as much as possible, and then their tasks that they'll be performing up there, so once they get there, it won't feel as foreign as if they've never done it before," said Capt. John Crotzer.

"Most of the time, when soldiers come to me with problems like that, I tell them to pray, believe and know everything's going to be okay if you keep the faith," said Spec. Jones.

Tomorrow night, we'll talk with SSgt. Lance Powell about a big surprise, literally, as he got on the plane to head for the Middle East.

Reported by: Mike Manhatton, mmanhatton@wtoc.com